How I became a minimalist

It all started in February 2012, when I had to go home to Norway to clear out all the stuff I had stored in my dad and step mum’s loft – they were downsizing to a smaller house, and would no longer have room to store all the stuff that belonged to my sister and I. For years, I had tried to arrange a trip to Norway by car for my then boyfriend and myself, so I could pick up all my things and bring them to my house in England, but that never happened. As I had to fly there and back, I would be unable to bring back more than a bag – not just because of luggage restrictions, but because I had to be able to carry it from plane to train to bus etc. It was a tough and emotional job, and I took pictures of everything I donated, recycled or discarded – everything from teddybears and collectible t-shirts to handiwork made by my grandparents and parents. All my old diaries went up in flames. In the end, I managed to get it all down to a 19 kg bag, and my mother kindly paid for the postage of sending all my photo albums over in the post.

When I got back to my bungalow in the UK, I was inspired by what I had achieved. I realised that it really is a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I went through the house, donating books, unused kitchenware and clothes to charity. I enjoyed the freedom of having less – if you can’t remember that you own something, there really is no point in having it at all.

A few months after I got back from Norway, my relationship ended. My ex bought me out of the house and while I pondered what to do with my future, I continued to whittle down my possessions. I would be moving out, no matter what.

I sold my furniture, juicers, my Vita-Mix, my printer, jewellery – everything that might fetch a bit of money. I donated or recycled everything else.

Eventually I decided that I wanted to go travelling around Europe in a motorhome. Quite an ambitious idea, considering I didn’t even have a driving licence. I was still living in the bungalow (my ex had moved out), waiting for my ex to buy me out the house. Generous family members and friends helped me pay for my driving lessons. I passed my test in mid-March 2013 and got a cute, little red car (named Betty, after the previous owner), which I kept for about 3 months. After that, I got part of the money I was waiting for from my ex, just enough to buy myself a van. Yes, a van, not a motorhome. I had decided that as a new driver, and by now, a rather committed minimalist, I would be better off buying something fairly small; something I would be able to drive. I tried my best to find a left-hand-drive, affordable and reliable van in the UK, but had no such luck. In the end I bought a right-hand-drive Mazda Bongo, which had been imported from Japan, and named him Victor.

Enjoying my new-found freedom in Betty the Rover
Enjoying my new-found freedom in Betty the car

I then went through the process of getting my dog Albert a Pet Passport, and got him a waterproof seat cover, a safe car harness, a high-vis jacket, decent fur clippers, a stockpile of flea and tick medication, etc, etc. For the van, I bought a drive-away awning, a TomTom Camper sat nav with maps of all of Europe, a handbook in English, thermal window covers, a collapsible water tank, an electrical mobile supply unit plus hook-up adapters, a fire extinguisher, a fire blanket… and so on and so forth. I even bought a Swedish World War II mess set with a Trangia stove, to make sure I could go wild camping and still prepare food (I tried making quinoa in it and it worked like a charm).

I looked into mobile internet solutions – that one required a lot of research, but I found an option in the end (a TP-LINK M5 3G Mobile Wi-Fi pocket hotspot).

I sold or gave away all my books, and bought a Kindle. I digitised all my photos, and took pictures of all my photo albums / scrap books before I got rid of them. The three big boxes my mum had sent me, plus all my other photos now fit on a tiny USB (backed up on Dropbox). I also converted old cassette tapes I wanted to keep to MP3 files, and VHS recordings of old solo and choir performances to DVDs.

I got my clothes down to a bare minimum – and settled on a colour scheme of purple, green and grey, which ensured that I could mix and match all my garments. I made sure my bathroom products could do more than one job (and discovered Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap in the process).

All my clothes fit in half of this chest of drawers
All my clothes fit in the top half of this chest of drawers

I used up all the food in the house, both to save money and to help empty the cupboards. I lived without a fridge and freezer for a 13.5 months, in preparation for living out of a van with no fridge/freezer. Then I slowly started moving out of the various rooms, to make sure everything I owned could fit into a small space, and that I would be happy living that way.

I even cut my hair – or, as I put it at the time, decluttered my hair – to make sure it would be easier to clean in various campsite bathrooms, or even in sinks if need be.

I left a few boxes with my ex – one containing 6 years’ worth of accounts (a legal requirement in the UK, but now I do paperless accounting), the rest containing gifts or heirlooms that I just couldn’t part with. It was an emotional, hectic and stressful time, but having something like this to focus on was very helpful.

In September 2013, Albert and I set off in Victor the Van. We knew we’d be back in about a year’s time, for practical reasons, but it was a really emotional moment nonetheless. We stopped off in Surrey, on our way to Dover, to visit a friend. While there, I started getting really unsure about the whole thing. I had only had a driver’s licence for 6 months, and I was about to leave the UK in a right-hand-drive van to drive on completely unknown roads on the ‘wrong’ (i.e. right) side of the road. And while I was in Surrey, I noticed that I kept having to ask my friend to look after Albert when I ran errands or popped into shops. Sure, while in Europe, I could either tie him up outside (well, not really, as I’d be terrified of dognappers) or leave him in the van (although only for a few minutes – he couldn’t stay there for long in the summer heat). And suddenly it dawned upon me that although what I was planning on doing totally can be done, I didn’t actually want to do it. Not on my own. I would love to go with someone else, but doing it on my own with a dog I love so much I can’t leave him unattended is just not feasible. So I panicked. Then I cried. Then I decided that “there is no shame in turning around” (which fellow Norwegians will recognise as Mountain Rule no. 8).

I tried finding somewhere to rent in Surrey, where I have quite a few friends, but the only options that would allow a dog were too expensive. Then, out of the blue, a friend e-mailed me to say that a friend of hers was moving out of a tiny, fully furnished flatlet in a tiny village near where I used to live. She wasn’t sure if I would consider coming back to the area after everything that had happened, and she didn’t know if the landlords would allow a dog, but she just wanted to let me know on the off-chance.

As you may have guessed, that tiny flatlet is where I’m writing this blog post from right now. In this tiny village, I have found a wonderful community, and made lots of amazing friends.

The flatlet is 31.5 square metres (or 339 square feet) if you include the stairs. However, three of the four walls are sloping, as it is a loft flat, so the actual usable space is even smaller. I love it to bits, and I never would have been able to move in here had it not been for the fact that everything I own can fit inside a van.

All’s well that ends well, as a wise bard once said.


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